A schools upgrades and renovation project will be on the agenda when the Giles County Board of Education meets Aug. 6.
After more than two years of discussions, evaluations, proposals and changes, the school board will consider the original proposal from Energy Savings Group (ESG) at a cost
of just over $16 million.
ESG started working with the school board in March 2018 to develop a renovation and upgrade plan for Giles County’s schools. Initially, ESG presented a plan they said would address all Giles County schools’ issues for 20 years.
When local officials flinched at the cost of the initial project, Giles County Executive Melissa Greene and Director of Schools Vickie Beard worked with ESG to trim the overall project and implement it in two phases. The first phase came with a cost of just over $10 million and was presented to the Giles County Commission’s Schools Committee in January of this year.
At that time the Schools Committee, citing due diligence, asked the Board of Education to seek at least one additional proposal.
Between February and July the school board went through the process of seeking qualifications and listening to presentations from companies interested in the schools renovation project. ESG was one of the three companies chosen to make a presentation.
Over those same six months things changed a lot. The school system, like every other school system across the state, closed its doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not reopen for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
While air quality had been an important part of the plan in 2018, last week it took center stage as Giles County schools are now working on plans to reopen schools in August with COVID-19 continuing throughout the county and the country.
Beard addressed the board during its work session last week, ultimately recommending the board consider the portion of ESG’s plan that dealt with HVAC, air quality and window replacement as needed at all Giles County schools. The cost of Beard’s recommendation came in at approximately $14 million.
Quoting EPA guidance and a Washington Post article, Beard said improvements to school buildings are considered key difference makers in education reforms. Improving air quality, ventilation, reducing leaks and bringing clean air into the school buildings from the outside were among the reasons Beard said school upgrades are needed immediately.
“It is our recommendation that we proceed with the ESG project,” she said. “Because they’ve been in our buildings, they have the most up-to-date information concerning our schools and all the HVAC issues that already exist. They’ve evaluated every building. They can begin work immediately. They can work on multiple schools at one time.”
Pointing out the quality presentations provided by other companies who responded to the request for qualifications, Beard noted it would take additional time for those companies to evaluate the buildings and catch up to where ESG already is.
“I’m not sure we have that kind of time,” she said.
According to Beard, ESG’s priorities include:
• Installing air purification technology in all classrooms and common areas that has recently been tested to eliminate 99.4 percent of the COVID virus within 30 minutes.
• Correct or install proper outside air systems to allow ventilation/air exchange to take place to improve poor air quality in all schools.
• Install district-wide control systems to ensure everything works properly and provide energy savings.
Under Beard’s recommendation every HVAC system and window that needs to be replaced would be replaced at every school in the county.
“It would be too tough at this point and time to pick and choose which schools need this addressed,” she said. “I think to get them safe and healthy for our students right now this would be the recommendation for you to consider.”
School board members, however, asked about the additional costs of facade, weatherization and water conservation upgrades originally presented by ESG and ultimately voted to send the entire original plan at a cost of just over $16 million to its meeting Thursday, Aug. 6. That meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at the Central Office in Pulaski.
Board member Katie Journey pointed out that interest rates are extremely low, making it a good time to use financing to help pay for the upgrades.
“We have to stand behind what we’re going to do to have healthy environments and try to make everyone inside our walls healthy and safe,” she said. “Even when we weren’t in a pandemic, we recognized there were times when we’ve had to close our schools and we’ve lost calendar days because we’ve had them out when we’ve had strep throat, stomach virus, the flu. This is just something that we keep putting off. I’ve been here four years and now’s the time.”
Board member Knox Vanderpool noted that while school board members all agree about the need to move the upgrades and renovations forward, they are going to have to present the plan properly to the county commission and the public to actually move it forward.
“There’s no reason to not spend money,” Vanderpool said. “I promise you, you can’t name one successful business that can say we carry no debt. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re carrying no debt, you’re spending money somewhere else and you’re not growing.
“We are talking about $600,000 a year to finance healthier schools,” he continued. “I don’t know any better money that could be spent. I don’t care if it’s $600,000 for 100 years it’s still only $600,000 a year and we have to invest in our children. We need to be investing a hell of a lot more money than $600,000. It’s just ridiculous that we’re sitting here talking about $600,000 in financing.”
After the meeting, Vanderpool added that the annual financing costs could be closer to $500,000 with the current low interest rates.
If approved by the school board at its Aug. 6 meeting, the schools upgrades and renovation plan would be considered by one or more county commission committees before going to the full commission for funding consideration.